Saturday, March 5, 2011

Commentary: The Top 40

I usually listen to CDs while I'm driving.  If I need a traffic or weather report, AM radio will get an airing for a few minutes.  FM radio is almost never heard within my car.

Therefore, I am ignorant of the Top 40.  Blissfully so.  Well, I was ignorant until I started using my gym membership (the relationship between regular exercise and weight loss is amazing!).  My gym blares the XM station that constantly repeats the Top 40.  Since I do not have an iPod, I have become well acquainted with popular music.

Some songs have been good company.  Katy Perry's Firework reminds me of the loyalty of an as-of-yet not housebroken puppy.  The song's relentless affirmation is like the little guy's playful tugging on your pant leg, and its accurate, if inconsistently artful, similes are the puppy's noble efforts to drag a tree branch across the lawn, instead of the twig you tossed.  The occasionally uninspired lyrics ("Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon") are forgiven as easily as accidents on the kitchen floor.  Overall, the song offers a pleasant experience to the gym-goer.

Other songs are not so pleasant.  Ke$ha's We R Who We R seems to be an exercise in superficiality.  The beat is strong, but the lyrics reflect severely disordered priorities.  Ke$ha tells us not to mess with her, for she's "Got Jesus on my necklace."  I can see Christ dangling there, a piece of jewelery, an ornament glittering in the strobing lights, a Pharisee's phylactery.  Perhaps if she had Jesus in her heart, rather than around her neck, she would not be "dancing like we're dumb," and her body would not, "go numb," presumably due to alcohol ingestion.  That the title of the song shears the vowels off the verb suggests to me that the singer thinks she has uncovered the core experience of being itself.  Instead, I think she tears the wings off the word and dances on its corpse.  She also makes me think of pirates.  We Arrrrrr who we arrrrrrr!  But that association is accurate.  Pirates plunder instead of work, and rape instead of love.  Those sentiments seem to unite themselves well to Ke$ha's album Cannibal, in which we find We R Who We R.

Another song with corrosive lyrics is Love in America by JTX.  The singer proclaims his intention to get his date drunk ("tonight the drinks on me") so that he can have meaningless sex with her ("ain't gonna get no sleep, Buttons on your levi's about to come loose).  If that's American love, I'd hate to see what American lust looks like.  He does not extol his lover's beauty or other qualities, instead focusing entirely on the imminent act of recreational copulation.  "Lets go come on shake your money maker Let go let me be your honey taker," is the closest he gets to a confession of affection.

My least favorite gymnasium anthem is definitely What the Hell by Avril Lavigne.  She has a good voice and the tune is peppy and catchy.  But the lyrics are an ode to promiscuity!  I must quote the song at length to demonstrate the depths of its debauchery:

"You say that I'm messing with your head (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
All 'cause I was making out with your friends (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Love hurts whether it's right or wrong (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah) 
I can't stop 'cause I'm having too much fun (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

You're on your knees 
Begging please 
Stay with me 
But honestly 
I just need to be a little crazy

All my life I've been good but now, woah, I'm thinking what the hell 
All I want is to mess around and I don't really care about 
If you love me, if you hate me, you can't save me, baby, baby 
All my life I've been good but now, whoa, what the hell"

Lovely sentiments.  The singer recognizes that love hurts, but she is unwilling to sacrifice her impulsive desires for the sake of the poor sap who's in a relationship with her.  Apparently love's pain only flows one way.  I wonder if she recognizes her own enslavement to her lust?  The chorus of La's that comes near the end of the song reminds the listener of the singer's immaturity.  I can imagine her sticking her fingers in her ears shouting, "I'm not listening, Nyaaa!"

Bruno Mars' Grenade is an example of the kind of song that enhances my workout experience.  Poor Bruno sings about his lady, who disdains his love.  Is he dating Avril Lavigne?  Here's a sample:

"Gave you all I had
And you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked,
Cause what you don't understand is
I’d catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I’d jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah , yeah)
You know I'd do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Oh, oh
I would go through all this pain,
Take a bullet straight through my brain,
Yes, I would die for ya baby;
But you won't do the same"

If Bruno is to be believed, then his self-sacrificial love is exemplary and Christ-like.  I don't know what this gentleman's personal life is really like, but his song promotes values that young American men really need to embrace.  You listening, JTX?

When Firework follows Love in America, or when Grenade flows into What The Hell, the cultural schizophrenia of America is highlighted.  Do we condone JTX and Avril in their irresponsible behavior, or do we believe that everyone has a special dignity, and that true love is self-sacrificial, like Katy and Bruno suggest?  Both pairs of singers promote mutually exclusive visions of the human person.  Which vision will prove more popular?

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